The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Excuse me while I cut myself a very, very large slice of humble pie.

Because I have never been backward in saying how much I loathed Eat, Pray, Love. And that Elizabeth Gilbert must be incredibly self-absorbed to have penned it. It’s on the very short list of books I could not finish – abandoned midway through the ‘Pray’ section because I couldn’t bear to read another whiny, sniveling word.

And then I read The Signature of All Things. And I loved it.

It’s been reviewed a gazillion times on Goodreads – there’s nothing that I can add, short of saying why it was a very different reading experience from that of Eat, Pray, Love.

Signature is a saga, but has pace – it spans decades and continents but Gilbert moves the story along at a decent clip and it kept me reading well into the night. In contrast, EPL is a short book about a short period in Gilbert’s life but feels like saga – so bogged down in boring detail I would’ve rather put sharp sticks in my eyes than keep reading.

“Because time does not object to passing – not even in the strangest and most unfamiliar situations – time passed for Alma in Matavai Bay.”

The characters are magnificently rendered in Signature – small details bring them to life. In EPL the ‘characters’ are real people… and I’m glad I don’t have to hang out with them.

“One cannot erase every reminder. In fact, one cannot erase any reminders. Her sadness was ceaseless, but she kept it quarantined in a governable little quarter of her heart. It was the best she could do.”

In Signature, Gilbert uses dozens of thumbnail sketches to create a sense of place – mosses, a dance imitating the planets, a binding cupboard, Tahiti, life on a ship – all are brilliant. Interestingly, the point of EPL (I think) was to convey a sense of place and its impact on Gilbert. Nope… I must have missed that bit.

“The cave was cool and silent, and smelled of minerals and soil. And it was covered – thoroughly carpeted – with the most luxuriant mantle of mosses Alma Whittaker had ever seen. The cave was not merely mossy; it throbbed with moss. It was not merely green; it was frantically green. It was so bright in its verdure that the colour nearly spoke, as though – smashing through the world of sight – it wanted to migrate into the world of sound.”

4/5 Let’s pretend Eat, Pray, Love never happened and Gilbert is all about Signature.

Alma craves wentelteefje (Dutch cinnamon toast) –

“The aroma made her weak with nostalgia.”


26 responses

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  2. I’m completely with you on both of these. And if you fancy giving Gilbert’s non-fiction another try I can recommend The Last American Man – totally different from Eat, Pray, Love.

  3. Interesting. I personally loved Eat Pray Love. I thought I understood why she wrote it – to record the memory of something good coming out of something bad and how she herself changed in the process. If you read Big Magic, she talks about how she didn’t expect people to take to EPL the way they did but readers connected with her story because it was similar to hers.
    I haven’t read Signature yet but it’s on my summer list because I’ve fallen in love with her writing.
    If you haven’t read Big Magic, I recommend it. It’s non fiction about the creative process. It might help you understand the background of EPL a little better even if you still don’t like the book 😀

    • I know lots of people who loved EPL – in fact, when it was released, a friend pressed it into my hands and said “You’ll LOVE this.” And then I wondered if we’d read the same book!

      It’s interesting that you mention readers connecting with EPL because, apart from the fact that her relationship breaks down, I don’t know anyone who could afford (in every sense of the word) to do what she did (ie. eat, pray, love). The thing that irritated me about the book was exactly that – yes, it’s her story, but most people simply have to suck it up and keep moving – maybe we’d all get over hardships better if we could recuperate in Italy, India and Bali?!

      I certainly won’t rule out reading more from Gilbert now – her writing in Signature is really beautiful (and I like reading books about writing, so Big Magic sounds great).

  4. !! Have never read Eat Pray Love but have been avoiding it like the plague for all of the reasons you mention – and written off Gilbert as an author. Quite pleasing to hear that her fiction is so very different!

  5. I also absolutely despised EPL when everyone else was raving about it. Yet I too picked up TSOAT on the cheap, and it has since sat languishing on my shelf. You have convinced me to give it a go (one of these days)!

    • I picked it up on the cheap as well. An author I love tweeted ‘TSOAT is in the Kindle store for $1!’ – so I bought it… It languished for ages because a) Gilbert and b) quite long. Don’t let either of those things put you off – although it is on the longish side, it’s not hard reading at all.

  6. Well done for getting halfway through the pray section. I didn’t get past the first page. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same author!

    Although the section on the island got a little out hand….

    • Ha! The section on the island (and I assume we are talking about Good Morning! {or was it See You Tomorrow??}) was the only bit I struggled with – not because it was graphic but because I was annoyed that she felt satisfied with what happened – I kind of think she deserved more… anyway, I hope that’s not all too cryptic but I don’t want to spoil it for others!

    • I think the bit I loved most was when her father, Henry, was on various voyages, collecting samples – the descriptions of various ports and life on the boat was brilliant.

  7. It never clicked in my head that the author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things was the same author, hahaha (oops) :3 Glad to hear you enjoyed this book, I kept seeing it everywhere but wasn’t sure whether to pick it up at some point or not.

    • I think you’d enjoy the historical element Lianne – I don’t read lots of historical fiction, mostly because I find that often historical details and dialogue feel forced but not an issue with this book. The early chapters, focused on the main characters father and his time on ships are spectacular.

    • I know lots of people who loved EPL – in fact, when it was released, a friend pressed it into my hands and said “You’ll LOVE this.” She loved it and it remains one of the few books we’ve disagreed on. I thought Gilbert’s writng in Signature was superb.

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